Childhood & Early Life
TobyMac was born on October 22, 1964, in the suburbs of Virginia, to devout Christian parents. Toby discovered his love for contemporary music very early in life and listened to everything from rap to hip-hop to rock music. At the age of 13, he went to a church camp where he was inspired by words from the ‘Bible.’ Very few musicians apart from him have combined biblical words with music.
His real inspiration came from the singer Sting, whom he saw leading his band, ‘The Police,’ in 1983. He immediately fell in love with the music and the fact that music could be beautiful and provocative at the same time. After graduating from a local high school, he became serious about a career in music and started looking for like-minded individuals to begin his career with.
Toby went to high school with Michael Tait, and in 1987, their common love for music had them forming a duo called ‘DC Talk.’ They both attended ‘Liberty University,’ where they met Kevin Max Smith, and when Kevin joined them, things finally started falling into place.
Continue Reading Below
The trio released their first album, ‘DC Talk,’ in 1989, and following its success, they embarked on a nationwide tour. This earned them further mainstream exposure. Riding high on the success of their debut effort, they released their second album, ‘Nu Thang,’ in 1990. The sophomore effort surpassed ‘DC Talk’ in terms of success and achieved the “gold” certification from the ‘Recording Industry Association of America’ (RIAA.)
Their success streak continued with their third album, ‘Free at Last,’ which surpassed ‘Nu Thang’ in terms of success. The album was later certified “platinum” by the ‘RIAA.’ Their mainstream success had them appearing on ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,’ making them household names in America. Their music presented soulful and fresh sounds resulting from a complex mixture of grunge, contemporary Christian music, and rap.
They were at the peak of their careers, with the release of their 1995 album ‘Jesus Freak.’ The album was tagged as “double-platinum” and was followed by the grand ‘Jesus Freak Tour.’ In 1998, the trio released their last full-fledged album, titled ‘Supernatural,’ which was another pleasant success story.
In 2002, ‘DC Talk’ was named “the most popular overtly Christian act of all time” by ‘The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music.’ Barring ‘DC Talk’ and ‘Supernatural,’ all their albums have been honored with at least one ‘Grammy’ award.
In the early 2000s, before the trio parted ways, they released an EP named ‘Solo, which contained two new songs from each of their solo ventures. By that time, all three had started working seriously on their solo projects.
Toby’s debut solo album, ‘Momentum,’ debuted at the top spot on the ‘Billboard Heatseekers’ chart in 2001. The modern mixture of rap and grunge sounds became Toby’s signature. Several songs from the album, such as ‘Extreme Days,’ ‘Get this Party Started,’ and ‘Yours,’ were featured in various films and TV series. All three songs, along with the single ‘Momentum’ were featured in the video game ‘Crackdown.’ The album won several ‘Dove Awards’ and a ‘Grammy’ nomination.
Keeping the genre technically similar, with a little dose of reggae, Toby released ‘Welcome to Diverse City’ in 2004. The album worked well with critics and listeners and earned him the ‘Rap/Hip-Hop Album of the Year’ award at the ‘Dove Awards.’ Toby further presented the remixed versions of his first two solo albums to general appreciation.
His 2007 album ‘Portable Sounds’ was yet another mixture of signature Toby beats and unconventional sounds. The album was another addition to his pile of successful albums. The album debuted at number 10 on the ‘Billboard 200’ chart and at the first spot on the ‘SoundScan Contemporary Christian Overall’ chart. Toby won the ‘Artist of the Year’ award at the ‘Dove Awards’ for his remarkable work in the album.
His first live album as a solo artist was ‘Alive and Transported,’ which released in 2008 and earned Toby one ‘Grammy’ and one ‘GMA Dove’ award. The album featured the cover versions of several successful ‘DC Talk’ singles from the 1990s and Toby’s solo singles.
In 2010, ‘Tonight’ released and sold 79,000 copies in the first week of its release. It reached number six on the ‘Billboard 200’ chart. It featured Latin and funk sounds in addition to Toby’s signature hip-hop, rap, and rock beats and became another successful experiment.
In 2011, Toby released his debut Christmas album, ‘Christmas in Diverse City,’ which was a result of Toby’s collaboration with several other musicians. In 2012, Toby released ‘Dubbed and Freq’d: A Remix Project,’ a collection of remixes of songs from his previous two albums.
His next studio album, ‘Eye on It,’ released in late 2012 and aced the ‘Billboard 200’ charts, making it the first Christian album since 1997 to receive the honor. However, the album plunged to the eighth spot in the second week of its release.
In August 2015, ‘This Is Not a Test’ released and debuted at the fourth spot on the ‘Billboard 200’ chart. Selling 35,000 copies in the first week of its release, it aced the ‘Top Christian Albums’ chart.
Toby has co-written two novels with his former ‘DC Talk’ members, Kevin Max Smith and Michael Tait. The books belong to the ‘Jesus Freaks’ series and glorify the lives of several Christian martyrs. He has also written ‘Under God’ and ‘Living under God: Discovering Your Part in God's Plan’ with Tait.
Toby has regularly made appearances on TV talk shows, and the rights of several of his songs have been bought by film and TV producers to be used in their films and series.